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Small Business Tour: Lanterne Candle Lab
Running a business

Small Business Tour: Lanterne Candle Lab

Tell us about your business.

I’m the owner of Lanterne Candle Lab here in Chinatown, New York City, where you can make your own custom candles. It’s not a traditional class where there's an instructor leading you. You can pour it at your own pace, so it's actually a very relaxing activity and a lot of groups like it because they can interact with all of their friends and they don't have to have someone constantly hovering over them. We have this little pouring guide that they can use that walks them through the steps, but there's someone always here to help guide them if they need. It's really great for an interactive activity. We have a lot of corporate groups, bachelorette parties, birthday parties. It’s also really great for if you want to have an intimate date night or just a group of friends.

Tisya Siswanto, owner of Lanterne Candle Lab

How did you get started?

I've always loved candles. When I was previously working in the beauty industry, I would always hoard them. In my little desk area I'd have like just 10 unused candles at all times. To this day I think I still have them and I just never burn them. I’ve always just loved scents and it's also a way of self care to just be able to light a candle and relax and unwind after a long day. You bring a lot of your personal memories into it because scents transport you to a different time and place, bringing back certain memories. So it's very nostalgic and it's very personal to the person who's making the candle. 

During the pandemic, we were all at home and I had started to create my own line of candles. I’d created some products in the past and when I was creating my candles, I was thinking to myself, what scents would people even like, because it's such a personal thing. So that gave me the idea of why don't they just choose what they like? 

The reason why we chose to open up in Chinatown is because during the pandemic, no one wanted to come to this neighborhood because of xenophobia and all of that. And the thing about making candles is that once you pour it, you have to let it set for about two hours. So it encourages people to go out and explore the neighborhood, and support other local businesses in the area.

Tisya Siswanto, owner of Lanterne Candle Lab

Had you thought about starting a business before the pandemic?

I had always thought about it, but I think I didn't really have the push until the pandemic because it kind of felt like— it's now or never. During the pandemic, I think people started to find out more about themselves, since they were just home, reflecting a lot. I just had more time, I guess, to work on starting a business. So I think that definitely helped. 

What scents are meaningful to you?

We have a lot of scents that are Asian based -- different Asian fruits and vegetables. We even have a Cilantro scent. My favorite would probably be Honeydew and Lychee. It's really great to be able to infuse Asian culture with candle making, which has traditionally been very European, to have a different side and perspective on candles.

Tell us about your connection to the neighborhood.

I was born and raised in New York and, but not in Chinatown. When I was in my twenties, I lived in this neighborhood and I found a really great community. All of my friends lived in this area. It felt like home to me. I think it's very special because people who live in this area don't tend to leave, so you have generations of people who know each other's families and it's just a very nice feeling to have. 

What are 3 words you would use to describe Chinatown?

Community, culture, and lively.

Community just because it's very tight knit. Everyone knows each other. Everyone helps each other out. Culture because, as an Asian American, I do feel very welcome here. I grew up in New York, but not really in an Asian neighborhood. We would have to go to Chinatown every weekend to get our groceries and pick up certain things that weren't available in our neighborhood. Being able to have that sort of availability to you is what makes this neighborhood so great. 

And lively because there's always events going on. One of the major events is Lunar New Year. We have parades, we have line dancing groups go around the neighborhood and bless all of the businesses in the area. It's a really good family-friendly activity as well. 

What’s it like being a new business in a neighborhood like this?

When we first opened, we were the new kid on the block. A lot of storefronts were closed in Chinatown during the pandemic and they've just never recovered. So this block had a lot of vacant storefronts and only recently within the past few months, I would say, have there been new businesses that opened. One of them is two doors away and we worked with them on creating a custom scent for their business that’s very personal to them, an orange scented candle because they use that ingredient on a lot of their dishes. So that was really cool to be able to have that partnership with another small business in the area. 

What were some of the challenges you faced starting a new business during the pandemic?

One of the first things that was a challenge was finding space. Even though spaces were vacant for months, a lot of landlords were hesitant to rent out again because they didn't know if their tenant would be able to sustain a business in the current environment. So that was a challenge. Another challenge was just external factors, like regulations around COVID and being indoors. We weren't really sure if we would even be able to be open. Anything could change at any moment. And then in terms of running the business, I would say that the supply chain was definitely a huge challenge for us. Everything was just so limited and everything was just like always out of stock, so we've had to work around those obstacles.

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It’s rewarding because it’s mine.

Did you grow up around small business culture at all? Did anyone in your family own a small business?

My mom actually had a restaurant for about ten years when I was younger and she pretty much said “Don't do it because it's a lot of hard work and you're going to be working all the time.” And it's true, but it's rewarding I think, because it's mine. I get to build it from the ground up and I can really make decisions on where I want my business to go. So I think that's really great. And then also being able to support other local businesses around the area was so important to me. 

What are your favorite parts of owning a business?

Meeting people in the area and all of the clients who come in from different places—tourists and local people who come in to make a candle. I've gotten a lot of support and everyone thinks it's such a good idea, so that's definitely a good feeling to have. It's very welcoming. And just being able to work with a lot of the businesses in the area through partnerships and collaborating. 

Walk us through a day in your life. 

There’s a lot of emails! Especially during the pandemic, it's been challenging because we have a flexible reschedule policy and that's just the nature of today's environment. I wake up, check my emails, and usually there's someone who needs to reschedule, so I take care of that. I come in and there are some tasks that I need to do to just get ready for the week ahead, making sure that we have enough inventory for the next week and getting everything prepared. When we are open, it's non-stop because we have four sessions a day and we are usually pretty booked up. We're really thankful for that. 

What does success mean to you and for your business? 

To me, success is really being able to help the people around me and also support their businesses. In the future, I would love to have more collaborations and partnerships. That's such an essential part of being in a community. In the past, we've opened up our space to local organizations like nonprofits and supported them as well because they are a very important part of our community. I think Chinatown itself, we've had to have a lot of more grassroots activism and organizations to really support the needs of our community. So I think success is being able to obviously have my business, but also to be able to support others in our neighborhood as well. 

What advice do you have for new small business owners? 

My advice is to be really organized. When you start a business, you're just doing things on the fly as they come, but it's also important to just step back and organize, plan, and map out where you want your business to go. As a new business, you have to pivot all the time. Having different options is always a really good thing to have. And then I think just being a team player—going out and meeting people in the neighborhood and giving back to your community is probably one of the best pieces of advice. And then just being authentic. Just try to be yourself and that's going to give you a lot of success.

How do you stay organized on the different aspects of your business?

When I first started out, it was just pen and paper, but it's very hard to keep up with. So I had to use tools to manage my inventory better and I started using QuickBooks as well to be able to be on top of business finances and separate that from my personal finances as well. I really like that you can import your charges directly from your bank, so it makes it easier. It's a lot less manual bookkeeping. And then being able to create different categories for what my business does is important. It’s very customizable. 

How have other small businesses helped you?

I'm one person, so it's very hard for me to manage things like equipment or supplies that are very heavy. So whenever there's like a huge shipment, usually there's someone from the neighborhood who helps me bring everything inside. That might seem very small, but it's very helpful to me. You wouldn't really get that unless you were in a small town or something like that, where everyone knows you. 

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We have so many businesses that have been here for generations, supported by multiple generations of families.

What would you want people to know about Chinatown?

It’s pretty much like a little village and self-sustaining, as well. We have so many businesses that have been here for generations, supported by multiple generations of families. It really serves the needs of its residents. I think most people come here and they see it as a tourist attraction—but it's so much more than that caricature. People live here, people work here, people grew up here and it's a microcosm of New York City as well because there are so many different places that you can visit and they're all very special in their own way. 

What’s next for your business?

Launching our own candles and selling them! We’re going to be coming out with a Chinatown collection that partners with other local businesses, taking an element from what their business does and transforming it into a candle.

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